Why I Love Upcycling
I love upcyling in bringing old things up to date – whether that’s a piece of furniture or renovating a client’s home or workplace. It allows me to be creative and add a little piece of history to my home, and be part of my clients’ history and, of course, doing my part for the environment gives me a huge sense of satisfaction – I hope it does the same for you too.
Upcycling is a great way to take the material goods we would normally throw out without a thought and update them or repurpose them so their useful life can continue.
This is an extremely satisfying endeavour, and if you’re interested in learning more about how you can upcycle, and why you should, keep reading.
A Brief History of Upcycling
The trend of upcycling is a relatively new one, as previous to the introduction of flat-packed furniture, families would invest in quality pieces that would last a lifetime, so upcycling as a hobby only truly began in 2010, though the term was first coined in 1994 by a German engineer called Reiner Pilz. In the past decade, we’ve all had a huge wakeup call to the effect we’re having on the environment, almost entirely due to our purchasing decisions, and those with a creative flair started tagging products as “upcycled”.
Today, there are hundreds of upcycled products for sale on handmade sites like Etsy, and there are a huge number of blog posts documenting people’s adventures in upcycling.
So, Why Upcycle?
We all know that great pieces of furniture are expensive, and while unique designer pieces are certainly worth it, costs quickly add up and, unless you’re willing to spend a lot, you may walk into a friend’s home to see the exact same piece you have. Upcycling is a much cheaper option, especially if you want to give something you already own a new lease on life, and basic equipment is low-cost.
Save the Environment
Recycling has become more important than ever as the negative effects of pollution from the huge amount of non-biodegradable waste becomes more and more apparent. Upcycling your old furniture instead of sending it to the landfill or incinerator means you aren’t contributing to the problem and you’ll likely keep hold of a piece that was made to last.
Furniture with History
It’s likely that the furniture you upcycle has a long history of being a beloved part of people’s homes, whether those people were your own family or strangers. It’s always fun to imagine where it’s been and the things it’s seen.
While furniture nowadays is mass-produced, furniture from just thirty or forty years ago (and always, if older) was handmade with care. When you upcycle furniture you allow this history to continue, add character to your home, and have the satisfaction of bringing something out-of-fashion up-to-date.
Great Talking Point
If you’re like me then you like your interior décor and furniture to tell a story, and that’s exactly what upcycled pieces do. Not only do you have a piece of history in your home you can tell guests about, but you can also impress them with your creativity and hopefully inspire them to have a go themselves!
Keep Family Heirlooms in Fashion
We touched on this a moment ago, but it’s worth a section all its own. When you upcycle you not only have a chance to create family heirlooms that can be passed through your family, but keep old pieces in fashion, and repurpose them for modern uses. Wouldn’t you love to turn your great grandmother’s old china hutch into beautiful bookshelves or even a TV cabinet? Upcycling is the best way to keep old pieces around.
How to Find Items to Upcycle
Step 1: Prepare
While there’s certainly no harm in impulse purchasing an old piece you love, it is worth planning ahead when possible. Think about where you’ll work on your project; the middle of the living room probably isn’t the best place if your project is going to take more than a Sunday afternoon to finish! A garage, shed, or conservatory is best, though of course, you can always use a spare room – you can even use the garden if the weather is kind to you!
Step 2: Look for Inspiration
Sometimes you’ll spot a piece you adore but you’re not entirely sure how to upcycle it. It’s always good to have an idea of the kind of results you want to create and the type of piece you’re looking for before you head out to find it. This way, you won’t end up with a home that’s cluttered with (albeit) beautifully upcycled furniture that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Step 3: Select Your Piece
Next is the fun bit! It’s time to choose the piece for your first upcycling project. The places to look are:
- Around your own home
- In family storage (where families often put heirlooms they don’t want to throw out)
- Local charity furniture shops
- Antique and vintage stores
- Free adverts on Freecycle and Gumtree (though you will have to sort through a lot of duds)
- Auction sites
- Car boot sales
- Other online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace and Preloved
Note: if you’re buying a piece for your first project try to find something you love that’s not too ambitious. A lot of embellishments and things that need fixing will give you a steep learning curve, and generally, it’s best to get that “quick win” for your first project.
How to Start Your First Upcycling Project
Upcycle Preparation: Test for Lead Paint (& What to Do If You Find It)
Before you start prepping your furniture, if it’s already painted, it’s well worth testing for lead paint. Pre-1960s pieces were often painted with lead-based paints, which can put your health at risk when they’re flaking off or sanded away. If too much is ingested (even by accident) you may even get lead poisoning, which is extremely serious.
So, why take the risk? Grab a test kit from your local DIY store before you start sanding. If you find it is lead paint, you may consider using an environmentally friendly paint removal system instead, or alternatively use a solvent chemical paint stripper which are readily available from your local DIY store but remember these are highly toxic and can be a danger to health, if not used correctly, please follow the manufacturers recommended guidelines.
Further information on lead paint can be found here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cis79.pdf
Prepare Your Space and Be Safe When Upcycling
There are many different ways you can upcycle and a wide array of different pieces, so the information is just a general guide.
If your chosen piece is made of wood the first step is to remove handles and hinges and then start sanding it down. If you’re planning on repainting it simply use medium grade sandpaper on a sanding block to “key” the surface of the old paint, so the new paint will actually adhere and not flake off after a few days or weeks. If you want to take it right down to the grain, an electric sander is best. (You can hire these.)
If you’re doing any sanding, always wear a dust mask, especially when using an electric sander.
Once you’ve got your project sanded you can move on with varnishing, or adding a basecoat for your paint. Whatever you choose, do your research and try to use eco-friendly paint or varnish. While there aren’t many on the market, there are more becoming available all the time, so it’s definitely worth doing a little research. Of course, consider spray painting hardware or replacing the hardware with new, decorative pieces.